Traditional Chinese Herbal Medicine

Written records of Chinese herbal medicine date back to the 3rd century BC. It is one of the great herbal systems of the world. Throughout its ancient history, Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) has developed and evolved in response to changing clinical conditions. Together with Ayurvedic (Indian) herbal medicine, it forms the longest unbroken clinically researched and applied herbal medical science in the world.

Many people in the West do not realize that Chinese herbal medicine is considered by many to be the true “backbone” of Chinese, or Oriental, medicine and treatment. Acupuncture and other therapies have often been viewed as secondary. While most people seek out acupuncture as a primary therapy for pain and illness in the West, quite the opposite is true in the East. Chinese herbs are the mainstay of Chinese medicine much as pharmaceuticals are in western medicine. Herbs are the first line of treatment used for signs of internal imbalance or illness.


Chinese herbal medicine includes a complex diagnostic system, based on evaluation of patterns of disease through reporting of symptoms as well as palpation, and tongue and pulse diagnosis. Herbal formulas matching the pattern(s) are then customized to suit the individual needs of each patient.

Materia Medica

Chinese herbal medicine includes both individual herbs and complex herbal formulas. It consists mostly of plant matter–including flowers, buds, leaves, twigs and roots–and also a variety of animal parts, insects, minerals, shells, marine animals, and even fungi. Specific traits of each “herb” and “combination of herbs” were identified over centuries of clinical application, including thermal properties, taste (sweet, sour, spicy, bitter, salty, bland, etc.), specific organ or tissue targeted, direction it moved within the body (inward, upward, downward), and precise method of cooking to achieve a particular effect.

Method of preparation

Traditionally Chinese herbal formulas were mainly consumed as teas prepared from the herbs in their dried form. There are still many traditional Chinese herb shops in the Vancouver area. These days we also have access to high quality powdered extracts of both complete formulas and individual herbs that can be conveniently taken either in capsules or mixed with warm water.

My preferred method of providing herbal formulas is a combination of the two approaches, retaining the integrity of using herbs in their natural state with the convenience of preparation of the extracts. I prescribe the herbs in a powder form (san) which is then either steeped in boiling water overnight in an insulated thermos or boiled in water for 10 minutes.

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